Saturday, January 31, 2009

Stolen Car Found

The stolen vehicle I emailed and posted about earlier in the week has been recovered. A watchful citizen aware of the theft discovered it at the corner of N. Galvez and Louisa.

It was pretty much picked clean inside, with a busted window and steering column as well. Thanks to everyone who kept their eyes on the streets.


.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Exploring Southern Mythology, Part 1

Alli sent me this article some time ago about how race and class play in Southern politics historically. Winding and complicated history? You don’t know the half of it.

But this post here is mainly a blurb, linking to and quoting from this post, which is a response to a Salon article - Third Reconstruction - that I’ve been meaning to discuss. This last part claims that the Civil War is ongoing, and will require a ‘Third Reconstruction’ to get out of.

The whole subject matter coincides with the End of Whiteness article from the Atlantic and the Liberadio posts that went back and forth with DADvocate.

What does it really mean? Now that the election is over and Obama is the winner, there is some need among certain pundits of the left to engage in victory lapping against the caricatures of the South that have, to date, been the oversimplified representations of the complex politics of a region that has dominated the national scene since, well, Independence. In response, students of history and the South are compelled to defend their region by pointing out the rather silly oversimplifications of others.

Let’s look at the first two posts. Alli wanted to hear my thoughts, here we go.

The main post in this thread is from the Democratic Strategist, and is a brilliant defense of realism and history in the face of oversimplification and mythology. You have to look at the details if you want to understand the South, and doing so is a long, hard road even for Southerners to come to terms with. Mythology tells us that Andrew Young couldn’t possibly be less economically progressive than Zell Miller, but history tells us something different, and even that is an oversimplification.

After reading that article, Yglesias makes note of this like ships passing in the night. He seems more excited to point out that some Southern Red Socialists were enamored with the romanticism of the Lost Cause than actually getting down to the meaning. The quote he should have highlighted is:

In general, the idea that the South--or the White South, at least--was a monolith that transferred its unitary allegiance from Democrats to Republicans after 1964 while maintaining the same reactionary economic and racial views and the same "elite" leadership just doesn't bear up under much scrutiny.

And yet, he falls into the same trap, saying the South is more like that today than it was in the past. My opinion and my response, as a Southerner who has only left my native soil on 3 occasions, is that there are far more dynamics at play today; and these dynamics are more complex than it was even back then. We only appear monolithic and simple to folks from the outside looking in.


.

Carnivores

Well, it won't take long for SAWB and I to try to put together something like this, and the only thing really standing in the way is the distance between Mid-City and North Georgia.

But whenever we get the next Geek Dinner together in NOLA, look out.

I wonder how that monster would react to andouille...


Thank goodness for BBQ addicts.

.

Dang

New Orleans Inspector General Cerasoli resigned suddenly citing 'health reasons.' His interim replacement has been named, pending a nationwide search for a permanent replacement. Hats off to Cerasoli, who worked hard under terribly adverse conditions to set up this office.

I hope the new guy can have a longer tenure, and build on the work that has been done.


.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Republicans Strike Back

It looks like House Republicans are finally starting to remember what a fiscal conservative is. The House Republicans didn't just say no, they said hell no to the Obama stimulus (read "pork") plan. Nary a single Republican vote was cast Obama's way and 11 Democrats voted against it. That still wasn't enough to stop passage of the bill but at least Republicans are standing up for the things they we put them in office for. For the first time in about a four years, I'm proud of Republicans for something they have done on the domestic policy front. Keep up the good work.

Maybe Obama and the Democrats in Congress will learn that "reaching out" and "bi-partisanship" actually requires making really real concessions to the other side of the fence instead of just paying lip service to the idea of unity and throwing a few trinkets the other way.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Truth to Power

A must read, this blog is a chronicle of a teacher's year in the RSD. Having done my time, the author is spot-on. These are the kinds of stories I hear about every evening from my roommate and every time I see my friends. These are the stories that need to get out, that people need to read. You want to understand crime? Here. You. Go.

I've seen the videos that some teachers have secretly taken while in school - students walking the hallways, beating up teachers, assaulting other students, trying to break down doors - and this district won't be shown such videos because making the video is illegal. Parents could sue if any evidence was entered into a record showing their kid committing a felony, and incompetent system administrators would lose their cushy, taxpayer-funded jobs if people really knew how bad these schools were, inside.

Keep up the good work, Taylor.

(HT: Liprap.)
.

BOLO BOLO BOLO

Tweet this if you have to...New Orleans is the world’s largest village so let’s put the instant communication thing to the test.

A friend had his vehicle taken between 7pm and 6:40am from the Bywater, from near the corner of Burgundy and Desire. It is a dull gold, late 1995 Jeep Cherokee with New Hampshire plate 575932. It has a missing rear bumper and stickers in the back window, including a large sticker for Zildijian cymbals, among others. If you spot such a vehicle somewhere about town, please call the NOPD to report a stolen car or drop me an anonymous comment re: where you saw it and when. All parties would prefer the former.

Oh, yeah, and forward, forward, forward this message.

Thanks.

A Bit of Optimism for the Middle East

We're going to play a little game. I want you to read the linked op-ed piece without reading who the author is. Then go back and see who wrote it. I'll post the rest of what I have to say in the comments.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Getting It Done

How relevant this article is today, even as it discusses a 1930’s era government program. Let us view the themes that apparently recur in the ways Americans govern themselves:

Contractors, contractors, contractors.

the PWA tackled unemployment indirectly by spending money largely through private contractors.
...
Structurally, the CWA was much better able than the PWA to mobilize quickly because it could avoid the cumbersome process of putting contracts out to bid and all the other obstacles to swift action that arise with public-private partnerships. (Government by contract was popular then, and remains so today, because it allows a politician to create the semblance of government action without expanding the government work force. It also caters to the public's belief that the private sector is more capable, an illusion punctured by recent scandals surrounding Blackwater and other U.S. contractors in Iraq.)

What kind of people are running the show? Do they have the courage needed to actually manage projects?

The CWA moved more swiftly than the PWA in part because of the difference in temperament between Hopkins and Ickes. Ickes was so fearful that the PWA would appropriate funds to an unworthy or scandalous project that he dotted every I and crossed every T before spending a nickel...Hopkins' anxieties were focused on the prospect that the CWA would fail to provide a sufficient number of jobs to the people who desperately needed them. Better to get the money out the door, Hopkins believed, and to address any irregularities immediately as they came up.

Quality Control. Where are the folks who make sure things that need to be done are getting done? Where are the folks who oversee the spending of public money and make sure it isn’t wasted or corrupted away?

The CWA's field investigators, who included journalists Lorena Hickock and Martha Gellhorn, helped keep Hopkins on the right track. The CWA's programs were further scrutinized by Roosevelt's friend Frank Walker, who as president of the National Emergency Council supervised all the president's new alphabet agencies, and by Army Lt. Col. John C.H. Lee (at the direction of the War Department). Both men were deeply impressed by Hopkins' leadership.

Efficiency. Are you using the tools at your disposal correctly?

Hopkins enjoyed immediate carte blanche to apply directly the apparatus of the federal government. He shifted staff from the federal relief program he'd headed up, seized tools and equipment from Army warehouses, and cut checks through the Veterans Administration's vast disbursement system.
...
This was achieved with a remarkable minimum of overhead. Of the nearly $1 billion—the equivalent today of nearly $16 billion—that Hopkins spent during the CWA's five-month existence, 80 percent went directly into workers' pockets and thence stimulated the economy by going into the cash registers of grocers and shop owners. Most of the rest went to equipment costs. Less than 2 percent paid for administration.

Results should speak for themselves.

The CWA laid 12 million feet of sewer pipe and built or made substantial improvements to 255,000 miles of roads, 40,000 schools, 3,700 playgrounds, and nearly 1,000 airports (not to mention 250,000 outhouses still badly needed in rural America). Most of the jobs involved manual labor, to which most of the population, having been raised on the farm, was far more accustomed than it would be today. But the CWA also provided considerable white-collar work, employing, among others, statisticians, bookbinders, architects, 50,000 teachers, and 3,000 writers and artists.

How many miles of sewer pipe could we use in New Orleans? How many miles of roads? How many renovated schools? How many playgrounds? Throw in the two airports, a few outhouses (City Park’s could use a thorough cleaning…), a levee system refit, some public space rejuvenation and some folks to recreate a community policing program, some coastal restoration, and do all that while putting locally unemployed people to work? Employing some of our writers and artists would be gravy at that point.

To do all that in a matter of months instead of years? Priceless.


.

Kneecapping Environmentalism

This post isn’t for the spiritual environmentalists, I’m calling the pragmatists. I don’t need any granola or tree-talking solutions to this problem, because here is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to proving environmentalism is good for economics and everyday people. This is also a two-fer, since you’d be getting it done in the pumping economic heart of the South. Your solution would be a model for almost every city in the sun-belt from Washington, D.C, to Los Angeles, so this is important.

Quick quiz – is conserving water good or bad for the environment? Is conserving water good or bad for a family’s household economy? Go ahead and answer those questions in your head. The intuitive answers are Yes & Yes, respectively. Conserving water has many environmental benefits as far as wastewater treatment; runoff & chemicals; stream, lake & estuary health; aquatic life health; recreation, etc, etc. The free-market economic answer tells us that, the more people conserve water, the greater the water supply is therefore the cost should go down.

If all that were true, then environmentalism would be an easy sell, and people would be conscious of their water use because to do so would benefit them economically. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

People in Metro Atlanta have cut their water consumption by double digits in many counties, but are now paying more for their water. Free market implications can only be considered tangentially, as water delivery and system maintenance are infrastructure issues. Water service is a subsidized, non-business, government service in many places, especially in the South.

So there’s a problem, and it is up to the government and the environmentalists to come up with a pragmatic, economical solution to it. Fail to address it, and it verifies narratives that the government is only wasteful bureaucracy that does not solve problems and that environmentalism is too costly to enact while prioritizing the needs of working Americans too lowly. Winning elections is fun, isn't it? If you can't solve problems like this, don't get too used to that feeling.

An added level of political difficulty: you do not get to blame suburban sprawl, non-concentrated county infrastructures, and terrible regional planning for this problem. While these may be the factors that contribute the most to the problem, laying blame only alienates any solution you must sell politically.

Bonus: what would be your solution, Free Marketers?


.

The Two Halves of the Bush Presidency

Bush sure got turned on, didn't he? He went from that guy who did what the Rooskies couldn't in Afghanistan to the savior of Iraq to a complete and utter failure. Huh? Where did that last one come from? If you're going to do an honest evaluation of the Bush Presidency, you have to look at both foreign policy and domestic policy. The former was his strength as much or more than the latter was his weakness.

On foreign policy, Bush and his Republican Congress was unstoppable for about 4-5 years. Vote Republican or vote terrorist was a pitch that worked with the voters. But it worked so well, Republicans paid attention to nothing else. On the domestic front, Republicans utterly ignored the biggest chunk of their constituents. We got a tax break once, HRAs, and a few bouts of wealth distribution disguised as tax rebates. And that's about it. On top of that, Bush and his Republican Congress went and implemented a massive prescription drug program. Republican Congress with a Republican President and that's as far as the conservative agenda carried us?

And it's not like Bush didn't warn us himself. "Compassionate Conservatism?" In 2000, a lot of us thought Congress would strong-arm Bush to keep that "Compassionate" business to a minimum. Then the War on Terror happened. Bush went from a President with marginal popularity to a President with phenomenal popularity. From that point on, the Republican Congress followed the President's every whim. And Bush led them right off a domestic policy cliff.

But we still voted Bush in 2004, right? And that we did. Bush won resoundingly without making any promises on the domestic front, which is good because he sure didn't deliver anything. If Bush had lobbied for small government as much as he lobbied for Harriet Miers, the Republicans might've had something to hang their hat on when the voters stopped caring about foreign policy so much. But he didn't. And if you were paying attention you would know he wasn't going to. That wasn't really his thing. When it came to domestic policy, Bush was always more of a Nixon than a Reagan. And no Republican in Congress was going to butt heads with a popular President from their own party.

Then a lot of people turned on Bush when it came to foreign policy. I still have no qualms with Iraq personally but I do not pretend to be a majority. I have no qualms with the War on Terror. I have no problems with the foreign policy aspects of the Bush Presidency. But more often than not people get tired of war. It just happens. People who voted Bush and voted Republican purely for foreign policy reasons either grew apathetic or hostile towards the way we handled things overseas. And when that happened, there was nothing else for Republicans to lean on. Bush's strength was no longer a strength and all that was left was a "Compassionate Conservative."

Sunday, January 25, 2009

How Narratives Are Built

They are built on the corpses of individuals who make terrible, awful, and inexplicable quotes like this: (Big HT to DADvocate.)

I am concerned, as I'm sure many of you are, that these jobs not simply go to high skilled people who are already professions or to white male construction workers. I have nothing against white male construction workers. I'm just saying that there are a lot of other people who have needs as well. And therefore, in my remarks I have suggested to you, and I'm certainly happy to talk about it more, ways in which the money can be -- criteria can be set so that they money does go to others: the long term unemployed, minorities, women, people who are not necessarily construction workers or high-skilled professionals.
Are you f**king kidding me? On January 7th, even before the inaguration, this statement was made, and the Rush Limbaughs, the Ann Coulters and the right-wing blogosphere has a number of their running narratives verified on tape by one of Obama's economic advisers. This is the conservative equivalent of Phill Gramm calling America a "nation of whiners" to help out John McCain. It are on video and transcript, and talk radio and blogs. I'm surprised no one has come up with LOLWhiteConstructionWorkers blog "ICanHasContratz.com," with pictures of the Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Statue of Liberty emblazoned with the phrase CANNOT HAZ!1!1! LULZ

Two words for Reich? Epic. Fail.

I don't think I've heard a more concise way to kneecap yourself, your policies, your party, or your new President. Let's count just how many narratives this one transcript verifies on tape:

- Liberals like big government;
- Liberals pay for big government with higher taxes;
- Liberals always ask for more money to spend;
- Liberals hate white people;
- Liberals hate working white people;
- Liberals hate skilled people;
- Liberals do not want big government money & programs to employ skilled people;
- Liberals would rather social engineer than civil engineer;
- Liberals don't consider minority or women workers "skilled;"
- Liberals think the only way minorities or women can get jobs is if the government gives them the jobs.

Are there any I missed? Oh, yeah, the biggie: THE MEDIA DIDN'T SAY A THANG ABOUT THIS!!! This is what happens when you keep Part-of-the-Problem-Liberals like Reich around your administration. Git him gone. Yesterday.

If Sarah "Media Hates Me" Palin defeats the incumbent Obama in 2012, send your thank you notes to Robert Reich. If you thought Joe the Plumber was bad, just wait till you see Jack the Contractor-Denied-A-Job-Because-of-His-Race.

Now that I'm done venting, I feel compelled to explain what Dumble & Fumble meant to say when he farted with his face instead of spoke intelligently about policy in an overly politicized environment:

- We plan to look at effectiveness and efficiency in bidding out contracts;
- We plan to patronize established contracting companies with a proven track record of success, as well as new contracting companies to handle the additional work-load;
- We plan to grow our skilled labor force with rapid trade skills training programs that have been successfully implemented on the Gulf Coast;
- We plan to avoid problems that have plauged construction and infrastructure projects in the past, including "Brother-In-Law-Contracts" and patronage systems that unfairly enrich a few well connected firms and waste taxpayer dollars and return little infrastructure improvement per investment;
- We plan to patronize only those contractors who can prove that all their employees are legal workers and abide by laws governing pay scales and workers compensation;
- We plan to vet our contractors and make sure their bids represent actual figures, and that all projects are completed within the letter of the law;
- We plan to adhere to a just and well-explained rubric of quality control;
- We plan to streamline the bidding process and compile an easily searchable online database, accessible to the public, to ensure that these contracts are awarded justifiably and transparently.

There, I came up with all that in just a few minutes. That's the kind of thing I'd rather hear about all the new economic plans, because that's what we have to have. That would be change. What Reich has instead provided is not change we need or believe in, but the same-old, same-old. And until his ass is gone, gone, gone, we're going to have to own, own, own what he said. And the resultant backlash that comes with it.


.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

On the contrary...

When Obama met with GOP leaders recently to discuss the stimulus package, he told them, "You can't just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done." Obama may be right. But he may be wrong. We'll never really know because GOP leaders haven't spent a whole lot of time listening to Limbaugh (or any other really real conservative for that matter) in about a decade. I don't expect them to start now.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Legislation & Celebrity

Oh, if only McCain had won that 2000 South Carolina primary. Now that he’s back in the Senate, he seems to be acting a little more like the legislator he should be, and that cat who would have been a far better GOP nominee 8 years ago. What are you doing these days, Mac? Slamming the door on Sen. Cornyn’s shenanigans? Hells yes.

It just reminds me that so many of our celebrities’ and politicians' images are controlled by their public relations teams sending press releases to media outlets and controlling what questions can be asked. Where did the McCain from the presidential campaigns come from? The Candidate was a cooked up caricature of someone who might appeal to the base and the independent voters at the same time, but the PR team couldn’t decide which narrative to run. Now that Mac is free from all that, he can get back to being himself, and doing what he does best (love it or hate it).

I’m glad to see that.

In other “where are they now” celebrity-for-the-sake-of-celebrity news, Sarah “Media Hate Me” Palin is taking time off from her busy schedule of being professionally persecuted by the Big Bad Media, and is ready to color in a book deal. I wonder what the title will be? Perhaps & Also: Sarah Palin’s Guide to Public Speaking; maybe From Predator to Prey – How Mama Grizzly Got Ambushed by Someone Like Katie Couric; how about All of Them – A Collection of Writings that Shaped My Unique Political Opinions.

Meanwhile, if anyone saw the Daily Show last night, they know that Fox News has now become an extension of the Discovery Channell during Armageddon Week. Limbaugh, talk radio, and even Jock DJ's have joined this belief system. The countdown to the destruction of America has begun. Welcome to Day 3 & A Half.


.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Texas IS a state, Obama WAS born in the US...

...and now Obama took the actual oath of office. Yeah, in the blistering cold in front of all those people Justice Roberts misspoke the oath of office and Obama repeated it wrongly. The President is supposed to take the oath exactly as it is written in the Constitution. You know if he didn't there would be some challenges to the validity of his Presidency. So he did it right later that day. What everybody saw on TV (or in person) wasn't the actual Constitutional swearing in.

I missed that there was a second proper oath on the day of the inauguration. I was too busy reading all of the "balls" jokes reporters were working into their stories. "Obama Shines at Balls" was probably my favorite of the lot.

And just for fun, I looked back at Million Man March pictures and compared them to Obamam inauguration crowd shots. I had always heard there's no way one million people showed up for the March. If reports are right about the Obama inauguration crowd numbers, I don't know if I buy that. The crowds look about the same size to me. Was anyone at both? What are your opinions of the crowd at one versus the other?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ideological Consistency Test

Are you for or against revenge killing? That’s kind of a loaded question, but the topic has been rattling around in my head since I watched a fairly popular movie on cable TV the other day. (Bonus points if you can name the movie before you finish reading this post. Clue: 1996.) Actually, the subject matter has been in my thoughts since before that, due to two NOLA.com articles I read. Added together, the three items create a diverse perspective that challenges the simple nature of ideological purity.

I’ll even do you one better: one of the instances, from my personal conversations and interactions, is an example that pisses off more liberal individuals. The other instance (the movie), from my personal conversations and interactions, is one that pisses off more conservative individuals. The crime examined in each is nearly identical (though my brother will argue that they are not).

I’ll start with the opinion piece on revenge killing, which speaks very deeply to our cultural acceptance of this practice. That is, when it is an acceptable practice, it is a symptom of a systemic wrong. According to Jarvis DeBerry, “one could make the argument that the revenge killings are the horrifying but inevitable result of a criminal justice system that often seems incapable of bringing about justice.”

These words make plenty of sense to me, and I’d have to say that Mr. DeBerry is more than adequately backed up by historical precedent. In places where civil justice systems and institutions are weak or corrupt, there is almost always more violence, and revenge killings feature prominently. If the law will not stand for you, you must take the law into your own hands to protect you and yours. This leads to cultural identifications we associate with the barbarism of places where chaos and anarchy rule instead of law.

In places where civil justice systems and institutions deliver adequately in the eyes of the populace, the populace foregoes the immediate retributions of revenge and allows the impersonal actor of the state to exact prescribed retribution in their stead. Though there may be excess towards harshness or laxity in some cases, the populace tolerates this system because of the shared protections it affords.

How about those revenge killing crimes, you ask? Let us begin with the real crime, for which a real American is facing real charges. No happy ending here.
An American contractor who was working in Afghanistan is facing second degree murder charges for killing an Afghan man who was in restraints at the time he was shot. He just took out his gun, put it to the man’s temple and pulled the trigger.

Pretty cut and dry, you may say. I feel indignation rising in some readers. It is WRONG to shoot a man in shackles, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter that the man who pulled the trigger had just watched as the Afghan had lit a pitcher of gasoline on fire and then doused one of the contractor’s colleagues in the burning liquid. It doesn’t matter that the burned individual suffered severe injuries to 60 percent of her body and later died. Why? Americans aren’t supposed to shoot people who are already restrained. We have problems when this kind of thing happens in our country, don’t we?

But what about Afghanistan? Not the most law-and-order place, is it? Not the most respectful of women’s rights, is it? How do you think the restrained individual would be treated by local authorities one he was turned over and charged with setting a foreign woman on fire? I doubt he’d catch a murder case. Knowing that, and knowing that he was in a jurisdiction where the criminal justice system was incapable of bringing about justice, our American shooter engaged in the horrifying but inevitable result.

Indignant yet? Is your internal morality gauge going bonkers? Because here’s the rub: some of my readers are probably horrified at the justification I have just offered, others are probably cheering it. Where is the question of ideological consistency? Take your reaction to the above scenario, horrified or understanding whatever it may be, and place that reaction – honestly – side by side with your reaction to the verdict scene in A Time to Kill.

How many of you, besides my brother, had the exact same reaction to both the real scenario and movie scenario? If you did, I’d say you pass this version of the Ideological Consistency Test. If you didn't why not?

.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Welcome to the Dawn of a New Era!!!

I got the title of this piece from the mid-90's PC game Syndicate. In Syndicate, you had a mob that fought other mobs for world domination. Any time you took over a country, you'd see a short celebration scene with the title scrawling across a blimp. I thought it fitting here. So long Syndicate Blue and welcome Syndicate Red. So long Texas Oil Baron and welcome byproduct of the Chicago Political Machine. Now let's go change some stuff... just for the heck of it.

Friday, January 16, 2009

patsbrother's netflix nightmare

So, one group of friends got my brother coal for Christmas (I'm not kidding, a big box of it), and I still have no idea why. But even better comes the gift of the "Netflix Nightmare," also come up with by his friends, of which I am gleefully a part. For the last several Christmases, Lawya' has been sending out a 'reading list,' in which he suggests books his friends should read based on his perception of their personalities. If you've ever met my brother, you know why this is hilarious, and why the Netflix Nightmare is taking this concept to a whole 'nother level.

The idea is to open a Netflix account for him, and then his invited friends get to choose which movies he watches and pay for the account. His editorial control of what movies are chosen is minimal at best. And he must watch the movie, once it arrives in his mailbox.

The funnier part is, he has to review each movie and post the review online. Which means he had to start his own blog. I hope you will enjoy reading his academic review of movie tyranny as much as I do.

.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Victimology

Sarah “Media Hate Me” Palin, keeps on keepin’ on. On the day her selection was announced, I received no less than three phone calls from Republican/conservative friends of mine telling me the election was “over.” I guess they didn’t realize at the time how right they were. All we heard about for a week was Sarah “Media Hate Me” Palin and before we even knew how many kids she had, we were force-fed that tried & true GOP narrative: the media is out to destroy us.

Good to know this skipping record lasts far longer than 15 minutes.

For the right wing, whose grandest entertainers get paid by saying the other side is consumed with the playing the victim, these folks sure do get tied in knots over squishy media types. It takes a serious and debilitating kind of defensiveness to consider Katie Couric the enemy at the gates. It takes a serious victim mentality to hear a question like “what papers do you read,” and respond by wetting yourself like a drunk co-ed at a national championship game.

What makes it even more cringe-worthy is waiting to say something about it later after you’ve had time to think up a response.

"Oh, yeah, and another thing....."


.

I Missed You Guys...

Is someone out there actually standing up for fiscally conservative principles? The Republicans look to be finally getting back to what they do best: being a convincing minority. They can't really stop this spending plan from passing. But they're standing up for conservatism again. I'm really starting to like Boehner and Cantor. Now that Pelosi is busy undoing the Contract with America House rules that allow the minority party to have any sort of voice or say-so, the Republicans are going to need strong leadership.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Two Famous Islanders Dead

In a bit of shocking news, we recently lost two of television's most prolific island residents: No. 6 and Mr. Rourke have both passed away. They will be missed.

How the Other Half Lives

Athens Clarke County is trying to swallow the idea of the neighborhood school. In today's issue, author Kevan Williams pens an article that brings up many points about ACC schools. These are some of the same points that New Orleanians have been wrangling over for years about our own schools.

Which is better, a neighborhood school that is the focus of a community or a consolidated school miles and miles away? Which one is more advantageous administratively, and which ones are more cost effective?

If the neighborhood school model is adopted, will those schools be used for more than just school? Will those schools encourage nearby revitalization of neighborhoods?

What role does aesthetic play in a student’s education?

What role does aesthetic play in neighborhood development?

What role does transportation play in school zoning?

Can and should education policy dovetail with historical preservation?

I’ll segue with an anecdote. I drove to Athens in November, and I brought a friend from New Orleans with me. I had met this friend when we were both 2007 teachNOLA fellows, and he is in his second year of teaching at-risk youth in the Recovery School District. He taught in one of New Orleans’ “historic” and “neighborhood” schools last year that had experienced the dual catastrophe of administrative neglect and federal flood. Those both were compounded by the slowness of educational recovery post-disaster.

As we were driving around Athens, we rolled past Cedar Shoals High School. Knowing that we shared an interest in educational disparities, I pointed out the front of CSHS. Yes, it looks like a loading dock, but the parking lot is at least paved and the entrances are well marked. It was assumed from the look of this building that buses were expected to arrive and depart in timely and orderly fashion before and after the school day.

We continued driving, and he was amazed at the size of the school, how well kept the buildings and grounds appeared, and noticed the construction of the fence on the outside. He was shocked to see the football stadium, baseball field, practice grounds and additional parking behind the main building, and uttered several expletives.

And that’s the rub. Utility is in the eye of the beholder. Author Kevan Williams sees Cedar Shoals as an example of school development done wrong (and he has valid points). But two folks who have taught in New Orleans saw something to be aspired to.

When a community decides to invest in neighborhood or consolidated schools (or some form of both) that decision succeeds or fails based on the people you have running the show. You can have a beautiful historic building whose student body walks to school fail just as easily as the consolidated big box school on the outskirts of town. Success depends on competent administrators, a responsive school system, and involved parents and members of the community.

New Orleans had many, many neighborhood schools, and is now dealing with a generally unwanted consolidation & balkanization plan (that is, there are no real districts, so the system can eliminate old neighborhood schools and consolidate students in other schools without explanation). But how effective were those neighborhood schools before the disaster? What shape were they in? Despite a few success stories, the system as a whole was struggling. The historic nature of many of the buildings was left to deteriorate even before the disaster, and now afterwards the neglect has continued. What is the purpose of having an “old city block campus to present public fronts on three or four sides” if those public fronts are of boarded up doors, ‘do not enter’ signage and graffiti?

You can holler about historic preservation and neighborhood schools until you are blue in the face, but if you can’t make sure the system takes care of these assets you will lose them. Athens will face the stigma attached to such schools, and fight the system that has apparently already abandoned or written off these locations, unless it operates very effectively. My immediate thought would be to refurbish and save these old schools by finding charter school organizations that would be willing to partner with ACC to do so.


.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Green Rations




Now, this is my kind of book review. But it also sounds like my kind of book. Rarely do I read a review and want to go out and get the book right the hell now, but after reading about what's in it, and knowing plenty about the ongoing debate, that's how I feel.

This is one of the first books I've heard of that really delves into the one thing that undercuts environmentalism most effectively: the spirituality invading a scientific movement. Every time some "environmental" romantic writes about talking with the trees or communing with nature naked in the forest, all of us who want rational and productive measures to be taken suffer. Proponents of "clean coal" get to act like their idea isn't laughable because some guy in Berkely, California is camped out in a tree and talking to it, and who appears more sensible in that argument?

(I also like the review because the reviewer brings up Thoreau's place in "American mythology," which is becoming an important discipline to study....)



.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Conflicting Interests

"Exactly how any of those options would work is not spelled out in the law"

That sentence pretty much sums up Georgia's new education structure. Though we've mentioned this before, the deconstruction of Georgia's public education system, started by Democrat Roy "King Rat" Barnes, has now been codified by the Georgia Legislature and Republican Sonny Perdue. How much damage caused will depend on how responsive the Georgia public is to the dynamics of their local systems.

This article really drives home one of the most important points about administration of public education in the South: the same legislators who continually cry and wail about all the problems and restrictions on public education are the exact same people who wrote those problems and restrictions into the code in the first place. You can't just go back and repeal bad laws, in this day and age, you get to make bad laws and policy, and then encourage the locals to contract with you a legal and policy exemption.

Like when New Orleans' Recovery School District is tasked primarily with chartering New Orleans' public schools, what incentive do they have to fix the non-chartered public schools which they have more control over? Georgia's answer is to charter whole local systems.

The laws, policies and reforms that have gone into public education since 1996 have apparently done nothing to improve public education. But a lot of people have made an awful lot of money through those laws, policies and reforms.

Welcome to the "Educational Industrial Complex."


.

Mentality Assault

I'll have some more to say about this later, but that shouldn't stop you from reading Cliff right now. As a matter of fact, take a minute and read several of his latest posts.

.

American Pantheon

Near the top sits Abraham Lincoln, and for many, many reasons this is the case. It is no surprise that Lincoln is so iconic in our history, and has grown in mythical stature with every passing year and "America's Greatest President" poll. It shocks no one that the GOP continually reminds us what party Lincoln was a part of. It seemed poetic that the Lincoln Memorial provided the backdrop for Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. Can anyone really wonder why Barack Obama wants to begin his historic presidency surrounded by the symbolism of the Lincoln mythos?

I bring all this up because today I read Christopher Hitchens on Lincoln. While Hitchens sometimes infuriates, the man is one hell of a writer, and pens an eloquent and accesible article on the 16th President and the American Mythology that surrounds him.

And, bonus points if anyone can spot the piece of American Mythology Hitchens inflames while deconstructing others...(clue: no pun intended).


.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Raspberry vs. Terminator

Well, at least we won't have to worry about an apocalyptic 'rise of the machines' through self aware robots like Skynet, I, Robot or the Matrix fame. The ants will get them first.

Maybe some modern day Sarah Connor is living out in Houston right now, laughing.

(HT: Oyster)


.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Fortress America

That’s what this reminds me of. Some Russian political science and economics professor has decided he is gonna make himself some money by telling the Russian people that the United States will dissolve sometime around 2010. He’s apparently making the circuit on Russia’s version of the news to say so. Somehow, even the White House got asked about this guy and the WSJ has decided to do a write up. (Hat Tip: Clicked)

Though I thought it would be an article about a crack-pot just by reading the blurbs and the WSJ’s intro, I didn’t get to laughing until I saw the map.

Apparently this guy "knows" enough about America to predict which years our nation will dissolve, but along the way he neglected to watch ESPN, read any American history or even give a nod to American religion. The map says it all.

Let’s start off close to home, shall we? The “Texas Republic” could indeed be (if it isn’t already operating, what with the “Western White House” in Crawford and all…), but the idea of it being influenced by Mexico is laughable. While the Lone Star Republic will do most of the dominating and influencing in that particular foreign policy, said republic’s boundaries also will not reach so far to the East.

Instead, take the old Texas maps, and expect the Lone Star Republic’s serious national influence to pretty much subsume Eastern New Mexico while Colorado comes along for the ride. I would expect Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma to yoke themselves to the Texas aegis quickly as well. Arkansas may need some convincing, but that won’t take long. The borders to the east and west will mainly center on the rivers – the Rio Grande in the west and the Mississippi in the east, as Louisiana knows their bread isn’t buttered in Atlanta. I would expect California, Texas and Mexico to challenge for influence in what was New Mexico, west of the Rio Grande. This configuration also does little to interrupt the fall football season, and provides for a re-emergence of the South West Conference without the tyranny of the NCAA to break it up.

Moving east, you begin to run into the Old Southern States, with economic power centralized in Appalachian cities (Birmingham, Nashville, Knoxville, Charlotte, Greenville and the dominating partner in all this, Atlanta). Mississippi will join because their cultural ties are stronger to the east than the west. Kentucky & West Virginia will be invited, and accept. Virginia, Missouri and Maryland will be invited to join, and will not accept. Florida may or may not be invited at all. A Second Confederacy will form, and will immediately begin debating what flag to use and what to actually call themselves. This will take years to resolve. Again, this configuration will do little to interrupt the fall football season, except that teams playing Florida will have to be issued passports.

Florida. Florida will also be invited to join the Texas Republic and the American Atlantic Republic (That will stretch from Virginia – who will regret not joining the Second Confederacy - to Maine, and will try to join the European Union). But Florida will become the Sunshine Republic, a stand alone entity on the coast. Just like the Louisiana Parishes to the east of the Mississippi River, who will band together to reform the Republic of West Florida.

The RWF, centered on New Orleans and including Baton Rouge, will set itself up as a Hong Kong-like free trade zone in order to keep from getting taken over by Atlanta or Texas. New embassies open up overnight, and the most important college football game becomes the Sugar Bowl as it pits the champions of the SEC from the east and the SWC from the west together at a truly ‘neutral’ site.

California will dominate the Pacific coast from Washington State to the Rio Grande. It will also take over Montana (because of Washington State’s importance) and Hawaii. It will fight wars with the Mormon Theocracy of Deseret (Utah, Wyoming, Northern Nevada, Idaho) over parts of Arizona and the city of Las Vegas.

The Mid-West will continue to try and join Canada, Texas, the American Atlantic states and California, only to be told no by all comers because of their high labor costs. They will fight a war with the Second Confederacy because the southerners laugh at them.

Empress Palin of the Alaskan Empire will order her troops to invade Canada.

.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Thank you for not smoking...

Despite my libertarian leanings, I was thrilled several years back when the Athens smoking ban went into effect. Anecdotal evidence I had seen suggested that business actually improves when such bans are put in place, and I know I was much more likely to go downtown to a concert or a bar when I knew I would not have to inhale that crap and I knew I would not return reeking of filth.

I also know that many were vehemently opposed to the ban, and that many of these individuals (and likely many of you) were and are smokers.

The article to which I cite is about a study on a smoking ban. One area adopted a smoking ban; others around it did not. The area with the smoking ban saw a 41% drop in heart attack hospitalizations after three years; the areas without the ban did not see such a drop. Forty-one percent is huge.

As the article points out, the study ain't perfect but, then again, what studies are?

Thoughts on smoking bans?